Liberty Alliance wants your data

Sun Microsystems has lead a hefty group of companies from all industries to form the Liberty Alliance Project, hoping to offer ubiquitous network identity services.

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By  Jon Tullett Published  September 30, 2001

Sun Microsystems is spearheading a collaborative effort to provide an alternative to Microsoft's upcoming Hailstorm and Passport initiatives. The "Liberty Alliance" project numbers among its members ActivCard, American Airlines, the Apache Software Foundation, Bank of America, Bell Canada Enterprises, Cingular Wireless, Cisco Systems, CollabNet, Dun and Bradstreet, eBay, Entrust, Fidelity Investments, Gemplus, GM, Global Crossing, i2, Intuit, Liberate Technologies, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Openwave, O'Reilly and Associates, RealNetworks, RSA Security, Sabre, Schlumberger, Sony Corporation, Sprint, Sun Microsystems, Travelocity, United Airlines, Verisign and Vodafone.

All told, the group claims to represent more than a billion customers, partners and employees. While that figure may be optimistic when you allow for duplication and other stale data, it's certainly a big group with a huge customer base.

The project will push for the drafting of standard mechanisms for creating and exchanging network-based identities. Users will be able to create a digital ID and then control how and where it is used, providing single signon mechanisms for services offered by group members, while controlling who actually has access to personal data.

The first steps for the group will be drafting a roadmap showing the requisite steps in evolving business practices, privacy, consumer adoption and technology to deliver the promise. Microsoft claims to have already addressed these issues, but widespread industry criticism of its ability to deliver security and privacy has raised concerns. It's unlikely to come down to competiting standards - should the Liberty Alliance get widespread adoption (which is likely given the already significant segment of the industry partaking in the project), Microsoft wouldn't find it hard to build interoperability hooks into its own Passport services, although it may need to make some compromises to comply with the new project's requirements.

The plot thickens - the Liberty announcement came a week after Microsoft said it would consider relinquishing administration of Passport to a federation of independent companies.

The Liberty Alliance Project has three main objectives:
To allow individual consumers and businesses to maintain personal information securely. This enables a decentralised approach to garnering personal or proprietary information, and promote interoperability or service delivery across networks.

To provide a universal, open standard for "single sign-on," which users and service providers can rely upon, and leverage to interoperate. Internet single sign-on will allow users to log in once, and be authenticated for a spectrum of network services supporting the Liberty standard, between and among web sites, as well as network services even if those services are provided by different businesses.

To provide an open standard for network identity spanning all network-connected devices. This allows providers of network services, and the infrastructure that enables them, to adopt a neutral, open standard, available wherever the Internet is available, to enable secure and reliable identity authentication across handsets, automobiles, credit cards - literally any device attached to the Internet.
industries, intend to create an open, federated solution for network identity - enabling ubiquitous single sign-on, decentralized authentication and open authorization from any device connected to the Internet, from traditional desktop computers and cellular phones through to TVs, automobiles, credit cards and point-of-sale terminals. The alliance represents some of the world's most recognized brand names and service providers, driving products, services and partnerships across a wide range of consumer and industrial products, financial services, travel, digital media, retailing, telecommunications and technology.

"Interoperability requires cooperation and collaboration, something Sun understands and endorses in the evolution of its systems and software platform," said Scott McNealy, Chairman and CEO, Sun Microsystems. "Identity is a common thread throughout all network services - the Liberty Alliance Project will leverage and cooperate with existing open, and interoperable standards that will unleash an internet that roams with you and your customers, wherever they and your business partners take you. We stand proudly alongside such formidable industry partners in the pursuit of that objective."

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